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T'tzaveh Sh’mot/Exodus 27.20-30.10: It’s Complicated![1]

Summary and Commentary: This week's parashah, T'tzaveh—(you) shall instruct—is the 8th parashah of Sh'mot and the 20th of the Torah. It's the second of four parshiyot that describe construction of items related to the Mish'kan. Most of this parashah focuses on the clothing of the High Priest. Other items discussed are the Altar of Incense, the oil for lighting, and installation of the priests, including the required animal sacrifices.

What is most fascinating about this parashah is that Moshe’s name is not used. Commentators offer multiple possibilities for why that is. The most common theme is that The Eternal is responding to a request that Moshe himself makes for his name to be "erased from the record." While that is true, it means we’ve once again encountered a Torah wormhole, experiencing the effect of an event before it happens. It’s in the next parashah, Ki Tissa, that we read “And The Eternal spoke to Moshe…” (31.11) The Golden Calf incident occurs in Chapter 32, resulting in a spat between The Eternal and the Israelites, and Moshe and the Eternal. The Eternal responds "Only one who has sinned against Me will I erase from My record." (32.32-33)

So, I jumped into the rabbit hole and found that the last time Moshe’s name is mentioned is at the beginning of T’rumah, verse 25.1. From 25.2-31.10 no use of Moshe.

In recognizing that the absence begins with the second line of T’rumah and ends with the first line of Ki Tissa, several more possibilities awoke in my sanctified imagination. What if Moshe was so taken by The Eternal’s vision of having us, the people, create the Mish’kan for The Eternal to dwell in our midst, and absorbing the tremendous number of details being delivered that he ceased needing to hear his name; that hearing his name was itself a distraction from his ability to be with the Infinite One? What if the reading is calling us to witness a unique and illusory way of being in relationship to יהוה!? What personal transformation is required to be in such a space for such an extended amount of time that you lose track of all time itself?

The details for building the Mish’kan, the High Priest and his sons clothing, and the ceremony that will consecrate them to The Eternal are more than the verbal equivalent of an Ikea diagram for putting together furniture. There are moods desired to be created. Smells and aromas designed to entice and move. Visuals intended to convey splendor and inspire awe. The Mish’kan compound has no magical powers in and of itself. Everything that occurs within its curtained walls is Divinely decreed and in service to the One God. All that surrounds and enters the Mish’kan compound are the rituals and ceremonies that knit together a means of relating to Oneness and one another. The oil for the ner tamid is beaten instead of crushed and cleansed of all debris because that’s the oil that burns the brightest with the least amount of smoke enabling the people to linger.

Aharon's eight layers of holy garments are to be especially beautiful; to exude splendor and glory. They are to remind him that he is in service to The Eternal on behalf of all the people, and that he cannot falter. His garments will be made of the same materials as the Mish'kan itself, including the dyed blue, purple, and crimson threads and yarns, the most expensive and coveted dyes in the ancient world because their production process caused them to cling to fabric better than plant-based dyes; fine linen woven together in their own distinct design. Gold will be spun into yarn and thread to create gold fabrics and ornamentation, reflecting the gold in the Mish’kan.

The Urim and Tumim are an instrument of decision that has been kept secret. Once the breastplate is made, they will be placed inside its pouch. Urim is said to represent the 42-letter name of the Eternal and Tumim the 72-letter name of Eternal.

One also has yes and no, while the other has innocent and guilty.

Legend has it that when the High Priest asks a question on behalf of the king, high court, or a person representing the community, Urim and Tumim combined to light up the breastplate, creating a pattern in the names and colors to offer a binary answer.

Aharon's headdress (מִּצְנָפֶת/mitz'nafet is not a Turban) is to be made of fine linen woven with gold threads and a gold frontlet embossed with “קֹדֶשׁ לַיהוָה” Holy to The Eternal. The frontlet is to be connected to a blue cord and tied to the headdress so that the frontlet rests on Aharon's forehead, well above his eyes (This emulates our t’fillin above our eyes).

The installation rituals for Aharon and his sons will be overseen by his brother Moshe over seven days. Seven is a common theme is these parshiyot, intentionally echoing the creation story mystically, spiritually, and physically to create an experience, then to recreate that experience time and time and time again.

Yes, it could be that The Eternal’s lack of calling Moshe’s name is in response to a soon to be made plea. Yet, in my humble opinion, considering the context and length of time his name goes unspoken and when the calling ceases, it could be that The Eternal wants Moshe to taste the experience that God wants the Cohanim and us to experience as we co-create the Mish’kan, consecrate the Cohanim, and experience the visual and sensual presence of The Eternal in our midst. Once all these instructions are put into reality, we will finally have our extended wedding feast with our Beloved! And that’s why it’s complicated.


[1] Modest expansion of remarks made on 12, Adar 5781 in support and advance of Adas Israel Congregation, Washington, DC, Sisterhood Shabbat, 16 Adar 5781.

© Sabrina Sojourner 2021

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